Stacks of books on parenting and child development sit on parental nightstands around the world, countless websites offer advice on all things child-rearing, but there are few resources out there for parents with mental illnesses, such as chronic depression or bipolar disorder. Now a new online tool developed by the Temple University Collaborative on Community Inclusion of Individuals with Psychiatric Disabilities and funded by aims to give valuable assistance to these parents.

“There’s not really a lot out there for parents with mental health issues that look at some specific aspects,” says Katy Kaplan, an investigator for the Collaborative and the assistant director of research and evaluation for Community Behavioral Health. “How do you talk to your child about your depression? Or, what if you have to get hospitalized and you’re a single parent? How do you help your child cope if you get hospitalized? All these things are really important to address and a lot of people don’t know how to go about doing that. They don’t have information about it.”

According to Kaplan, parents with mental illnesses deal with the same challenges that all parents face along with the problems related to their symptoms, but often feel stigma and lack proper support. Due to these issues, these parents are at greater risk of losing their children. Thanks to a federal grant from the Department of Education, Kaplan has spent several years working with mental health specialists, peer counselors and parents to develop their online Parenting Tool.

Informed by research and national survey results, this free tool’s structure and educational content offers advice for parents of infants, children and teenagers. “There are giant books published on child development and you can find something on every year of a kid’s life,” explains Kaplan, so their task was distilling that information so that parents of kids of all ages can use the tool. “The thought was that they would have one place to go to, to get some basic parenting information and some basic mental health information, and then some very specific information about the intersection of being a parent with a mental health issue. So that was our roadmap for the curriculum we created.”

Kaplan explains that a virtual peer support tool has the benefit of being anonymous. With mental health issues, some people can feel stigmatized and don’t want other people to know. Busy parents can also find it hard to find the time to seek out assistance and guidance, so a free online tool can bridge some of those gaps.

The program includes lessons on reducing stress, improving coping mechanisms and parenting tips on the benefits of creating household routines. Says Kaplan, “Being a good parent means that you take care of your own mental health and your own emotional well being, and here are ways to do that.”

The original work to support the tool was funded by the Department of Education and current efforts are funded by the Department of Health and Human Services. The Collaborative is directed by Mark Salzer, professor, and chair of the Rehabilitation Sciences Department.